December’s Leftovers and January’s Brainteaser
It was the month in which history repeated itself. The public paid rabid attention to a musical for which the reviews weren’t good. I’m referring, of course, to THE SOUND OF MUSIC LIVE! which had the same experience back in 1959 when business was good and the notices were not.
Precious few of my friends liked the broadcast, and yet, America did. The ratings were strong, for the presentation won each of its half-hour time periods. Just about as many people were watching at the end as they were at the beginning, indicating that they liked it -- they really liked it.
Aside from our beloved Broadway performers who were well worth seeing, this did seem to be community theater. Okay, but a sizeable portion of the nation sees more community theater than any other kind of live entertainment, so this fit right in with their expectations.
If NBC hadn’t run this, it might have presented a violence-packed film that would have inspired someone to go out and kill. And while I’ll admit that many of my friends wanted to go out and murder many of the people involved with THE SOUND OF MUSIC LIVE! I’d say it did far more good than harm. And that is, you should pardon the expression, something good.
SIX BY SONDHEIM was another major TV event. Loved seeing in the first “Opening Doors” sequence the window card for ALLEGRO on the wall for three reasons: 1) Seventeen-year-old Sondheim worked on the original production as a gofer; 2) Sondheim has often said that he’s spent his entire career trying to fix the Rodgers-and-Hammerstein flop; 3) MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, from which “Opening Doors” comes, has the same theme as ALLEGRO – only it expresses it better and more believably.
Had a quick conversation with Alan Menken’s daddy immediately following after the York Theatre Company’s gala that honored the esteemed composer (and, in his early career, lyricist, too). “You know,” said the elder Menken, “I wanted Alan to be a dentist like me. But he just wasn’t interested. I remember, though, when his daughter was about nine and had a loose tooth. He was on the phone with me at once begging for advice. Of course, I said to him, ‘If you listened to me and had become a dentist in the first place, you wouldn’t have to be calling me now.’”
Four years ago when I wrote the liner notes to THE STORY OF MY LIFE, I mentioned that the Broadway audience gasped in sadness and horror when Thomas told ol’ friend Alvin not to come visit him in New York City -- after Alvin had been looking forward to the visit like a kid who’s yearning for Christmas. At the time, someone on one of the theatrical message boards said that he highly doubted that I was telling the truth. I’ll take a polygraph test and easily pass -- but I also found another audience that had the same reaction this month: the one at the Delaware Theatre Company. Afterward, I spoke to stars Rob McClure and Ben Dibble, and they told me that the audience at every performing had had the same reaction. So there, ye Internet poster of little faith!
Excellent production, by the way. How lucky Wilmington is to have McClure, one of New York’s fastest rising actors, and Dibble, one of Philadelphia’s shining musical theater stars. They did a terrific job with terrific material.
I remember the authors telling me the weekend that the show opened and closed that they were putting money into an album rather than trying to run at the Booth in order to spur more productions. The plan seems to have worked. It certainly did in Wilmington.
While waiting for a bus at Penn Station in Newark, I noticed a long-abandoned warehouse on which the words “Joseph Hollander” could still be seen. But underneath it, what was that word that had faded terribly? After a while, I finally made it out. Yes! It actually said “Furs.” Wow! This was one of the places that actually Hollanderized minks for some guys’ dolls.
If I had to guess which theater company has the most sophisticated theatergoers, I’d say the Signature. Every time I attend a play anywhere else and hear the pre-show announcement that requests “If you feel you may have the need for a hard candy, please unwrap it now,” many in the audience laugh, because they’re new to theatergoing and have never before heard the appeal. But at Signature, the announcement rarely gets a chuckle, suggesting that virtually everyone has heard it time and time again in their umpteen trips to the theater.
It was the month that Business Insider made a list of “The Most Famous Book Set in Every State.” No surprise that GONE WITH THE WIND represented Georgia or that TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD was the choice for Alabama. All were novels, except for one play: THE LARAMIE PROJECT by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater was deemed the most definitive for Wyoming. Wish that the Matthew Shepard murder had never happened and that Business Insider’s insiders would have had to go searching for another book.
Pet Peeve of the Month: Don’t you hate when a production announces its running time as, say, two hours -- and DOESN’T include the intermission? I say that playgoers are less concerned with the actual time that curtain is up and more interested in when they’ll be filing out of the theater. Lord knows how many parking tickets have been issued as a result of this.
And it was the month that saw the first production of my play ADAM’S GIFTS, a new and very different take on A CHRISTMAS CAROL. My favorite part occurred when the show was over and so many people came to embrace me – and I felt that their cheeks were damp from crying. Thanks to Philip Hoffman, William Parry, Julia Peterson, Maureen Silliman, Hayden Wall, director Daniel Neiden and producers June Rachaelson Ospa and Justin Colon for making it all happen.
Last month’s brainteaser: Two musicals that were produced by David Merrick have something in common that few other Broadway musicals in the history of entertainment share. When each opened, the commonality wouldn’t be known for a few years. What is it?
Both FANNY and IRMA LA DOUCE were made into movies that dropped the actual scores that made them musicals in the first place. Yes, some music from each could be heard in the background, and Shirley MacLaine did a quasi-rendition of “Dis-Donc,” but for all intents and purposes, the scores were dropped – dammit.
Arthur Robinson was the first to get it, followed by Ian Ewing and Joe Miller. Honorable mention goes to Jack Lechner and Stuart Ira Soloway, first because they came up with answers that fit, and second, because they’re honorable menschen.
This month’s brainteaser: What do these shows have in common? BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S, CINDERELLA, THE DROWSY CHAPERONE, EVITA, GUYS AND DOLLS, HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH, INTO THE WOODS, THE MAGIC SHOW, MONTY PYTHON’S SPAMALOT and THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE.
You know where to find me.
— Peter Filichia